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Archive for the ‘snack’ Category


Ma’moul Cookies

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. My grandfather passed away last month and that took a lot of my blogging energy away from me. I knew I wanted to dedicate a post to him as he was as much a foodie as I am, but my words escaped me. In my failed attempts to write, I would stare blankly at my computer screen as memories of him streamed through my thoughts.

When I slept over my grandparent’s house as a kid, I would often hear my grandfather poke around in the kitchen, usually around dawn, well aware that my grandmother could sleep through anything. I, of course, would get up from bed to find him alone in the kitchen, happily stirring a hefty pot of homemade jam (his specialty) or preparing some sort of sweet treat without my grandmother there to convince him against it. When he noticed me watching he would let out big a smile, and allow me to stay and help so long as I didn’t wake up anyone else.

mise en place

Since I haven’t yet perfected my grandfather’s rose petal jam (مربة الورد), his claim to fame, I decided to make one of my favorite cookies I grew up eating called ma’moul (معمول). If you’re Arabic, these cookies need no introduction as they’re popular all around the Middle East, especially in Lebanon and Syria, where they’re stuffed with either walnuts or pureed dates.

a stream of butter

The cookie itself tastes a lot like butter cookies, but these also have more of a crumbly, shortbread texture because of their semolina base.

the secret is in the mahlab: محلب

The secret ingredient that makes these cookies so special is called mahlab, which is an aromatic spice obtained by extracting the seed kernels from inside the cherry stone of the St. Lucie Cherry. It’s very popular in countries like Greece, Turkey and all around the Middle East.

note: Since I won’t be able to host this month’s A Taste of the Mediterranean, I want to give away some mahlab to three randomly chosen commenters on this post (by May 1st). If you’d like to share, I’d love to know how family plays a roll in your cooking since it is something I have given a lot of thought to this month. Thank you for your support and understanding.

finely ground mahlab

The mahlab gives these cookies a subtle nutty flavor that you won’t pick up on immediately, but you’ll certainly notice if it’s missing. Mahlab is also very popular in Turkey and Greece for flavoring egg-rich breads similar to challah in Jewish cuisine.

ma’moul in four steps

As with most Middle Eastern dishes, these cookies take some patience. If you don’t have Middle Eastern cookie molds laying around, you could use any circular molds, or you could even free-hand them like Kate from Aaplemint did. Anyway you form them, they’ll look beautiful and taste amazing.

miniature ma’moul (معمول)

Funnily enough, I wish I had a pair of pantyhose when I ventured to make these cookies. While visiting the Middle East last winter I learned that some women have a pair of clean pantyhose set aside that they use especially for removing these cookies from their mold. That way you don’t spray the mold with anti-stick spray or bruise your hand in the process, like I did.

ma’moul

yields approx 50-60 small cookies

Components

  • 300 g farina (cream of wheat)* 
  • 100 g fine semolina
  • 125 g pitted dates
  • 1 stick + 1 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/2-3/4 cup of milk, hot
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp + 2 tsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tbsp mahlab, ground
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • powdered sugar, for garnish

Putting them all together

  1. Mix 1 stick of the melted butter in with the farina and semolina and knead until well mixed. Cover and let sit over night.
  2. To make the filling process the pitted dates with the remaining tbsp of melted butter, 2 tsp of orange blossom water, and half of the ground mahlab in your food processor until it becomes a smooth paste.
  3. Once the butter has soaked into the semolina add the remaining of the ingredients, except the hot milk.
  4. Pour half cup of the hot milk and mix well to form a dough. The dough should be smooth and moist; if it feels a bit dry continue adding more milk.
  5. Form each cookie with a mold or freehand as shown in the photo above (by hiding a ball of the date filling inside the dough).
  6. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a 325 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown.
  7. Cool the cookies on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with powdered sugar for garnish.

notes: Cream of Wheat (aka Farina) should be available at all major supermarkets. For these cookies I use the red box that says 2 1/2 minutes.

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dedicated to my grandfather

Divinity in a Cookie

There is something sensational about biting into a freshly baked cookie that cannot be replicated with any other confection. The sweet taste and buttery texture in each bite transports you back to a simpler time; a time when learning how to tie your shoe was a priority on your agenda.

Whether they are decadently prepared with chunky chocolate morsels or studded with crunchy walnuts, people often indulge in their choice cookie when looking for that extra pick-me-up.
Called Ghraybe in the Middle East, these fragrant pistachio cookies are a classy addition to any cookie repertoire. Characterized by their powdery soft disposition and exotic essence, these cookies are always a treat in my family.

ghraybe (غريبة)

Ghraybe (Semolina Pistachio Cookies)

Components

  • 200 g. clarified butter
  • 200 g. confectioners sugar
  • 200 g. flour
  • 100 g. super fine semolina
  • 25 g. toasted pistachios, ground
  • ½ tsp. rosewater (optional)
  • ½ tsp. orange blossom water (optional)
  • 36-40 unsalted pistachios, shelled

Putting them all together

  1. Clarify butter by melting regular unsalted butter over low heat and skimming off the diary solids that float to the top. Measure out 200 g. (approximately 1 cup) and set aside to cool.
  2. Mix cooled clarified butter and confectioners sugar (approximately 1½ cups) for about 3 minutes or until light and fluffy.
  3. Mix in orange blossom water and rosewater. Add the super fine semolina (approximately 1/2 cup), flour (approximately 1 1/3 cup), ground pistachios (approximately ¼ cup) and mix until it comes together as a dough.
  4. Form little rings by rolling a piece of dough between your hands (or on the table) and looping it so that the ends overlap. Place a pistachio where the ends meet and set on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  5. Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes, then bake in a 300 degree oven for 15 minutes or until just set. Place the cookies on a cooling rack and enjoy!!

Note: You can find Orange Blossom Water and Rosewater in any Middle Eastern supermarket or in most specialty food stores. You can also find them online in Dayna’s Market.

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Ode to the Humble Chickpea

Creamy yet healthy; inconspicuous yet bold; seldom do we appreciate all the wonders this modest legume has to offer. As a tribute to this golden gem, the inaugural entry in this blog will be dedicated to it and the star role it plays in the celebrated Middle Eastern dish called hummus.

Ask any Middle Easterner and they will insist that hummus originated from their homeland – probably in the heart of some small village, where it was a product of their ancestors’ tears, sweat and toil. To this day, however, no one knows exactly where this highly acclaimed spread originated. With a past that’s ancient history, this heavenly dip lives within the millions of circulating recipes that have adapted through time, culture and local resources.

Determined to get as close to an authentic recipe as possible, I went directly to my grandmother. “A few handfuls of chickpeas, some lemon juice, a couple garlic cloves and a tiny bit of tahini,” she said through the proud smile printed on her face. Typical Arab grandmother that she is, it didn’t take more than an enthusiastic expression on my face before she offered to make a batch with me the following day. She had me soak dried chickpeas overnight and woke me up at the crack of dawn to what seemed to be hummus boot camp. I was constantly pulsing the food processor, smashing garlic and squeezing lemons while she gloriously worked her magic to recreate the traditional hummus I grew up eating.

After spending the day with my grandmother and experimenting with a few ideas myself, I came up with a hummus trilogy, if you will, that attunes to the palates of purists, classics and hummus eccentrics.

classics are never out of style

Traditional Hummmus

Components

  • 2 15.5 oz. cans of chickpeas, rinsed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tbsp. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. tahini
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

Boil the rinsed chickpeas for 20 minutes in lightly salted water to remove their canned taste and soften them up for processing. Drain the chickpeas and add into a large food processor along with the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Pulse until you get that creamy consistency and check for seasoning. Finally, transfer into a bowl and mix in the tahini by hand; cover and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Spread the hummus in a shallow bowl and make a well in the center for the olive oil. For garnish, sprinkle cumin, Hungarian paprika or chopped flat leaf parsley and drizzle your fruitiest extra virgin olive oil into the well. Serve along side some warm pita bread and enjoy!!

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For a classic interpretation of this spread, try my Roasted Red Pepper Hummus. It’s deep flavors and red colors will add sophistaction and vibrance to every bite.

fiery red hummus

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Components

  • 2 15.5 oz. can of chickpeas, rinsed
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 tbsp. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. tahini
  • 3 roasted red bell peppers
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus is a just as easy to put together as the Traditional Hummus. Start out with the same ingredients, but go a bit shy with the lemon juice and olive oil because of the natural moisture in the bell peppers. Pat dry your roasted red peppers and process along with the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Finally, transfer into a bowl and mix in the tahini by hand; cover and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Spread the hummus in a shallow bowl and garnish with pieces of roasted red peppers and a drizzle of your favorite extra virgin olive oil. You can serve this with warm pita bread or even as a spread inside a sandwich for a healthy and exotic appeal.

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For the hummus aficionados out there, my spinach artichoke hummus is a modern translation of a timeless classic. This recipe came to life after my stubborn self decided to feature a hummus trilogy and was in need of a third recipe. So I drove down to Wegmans with my friend Jason and started brainstorming right down the produce isle, blurting outrageous possibilities like asparagus hummus and even banana hummus. Fortunately, those ideas were immediately vetoed and after many ridiculous suggestions, we stood in front of the wide array of greens. At this point everything fell into place and I looked over at Jason and suggested: Spinach. Artichoke. Hummus.

can’t go wrong with spinach & artichoke

Spinach Artichoke Hummus

Components

  • 2 15.5 oz. can of chickpeas, rinsed
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 tbsp. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. tahini
  • 6 oz. frozen artichokes
  • 5 oz. frozen spinach
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

Again, this hummus is just as easy to make. First, defrost the spinach and squeeze out as much of the water as possible. Next, steam (or boil in 1/4 cup of water) the artichokes for 4-5 minutes and then sauté them in olive oil for a couple more. By sautéing the artichoke you cook out most of the water and are left with its natural Mediterranean flavor. Process the drained spinach and sautéed artichokes along with the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Finally, transfer into a bowl and mix in the tahini by hand; cover and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Spread the hummus in a shallow bowl and garnish with sautéed artichokes and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve this hummus with your favorite pita chips and enjoy!

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